Author: Anna Chotlos

Lack of Oscars diversity disappoints viewers

For the second time since 1998, all twenty actors nominated for Oscars this year are white. All the nominated directors are white men. No female screenwriters or cinematographers were nominated either. This lack of diversity at the Academy Awards seems especially blatant after last year, when Twelve Years a Slave won best picture and three black actors were nominated for their performances.

In response to the homogeneity of this year’s nominees, many critics have expressed disappointment with the lack of both actor and director nominations for Selma. The film is about the 1965 civil rights protest march led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Selma was nominated for best picture, though its director Ava DuVernay and lead actor David Oyelowo, who portrayed Dr. King, were passed over for nominations for the directing and acting awards. Many had expected DuVernay to be the first black woman and fifth woman ever nominated for best director.

Given Selma‘s relevance to the tragic events in Ferguson and other current protests over the racism and injustices perpetrated by the police and justice system, many critics interpreted the Selma Oscar snubs as an egregious lack of social consciousness by the Academy voters. Mainstream films made by and about people of color are an important component of a more honest dialogue about race in the United States. In recognizing Selma at the Academy Awards, Hollywood had the opportunity to amplify and support black voices. Shamefully, they did not to the extent they might have.

Many attribute the lack of diversity in the nominations to the lack of diversity among those casting the votes. A 2012 infographic by Lee and Low Books shows how the demographics of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences contribute to its lack of appreciation for diverse perspectives. Of the 6,000 voting members, 94 percent are white and 77 percent are male, with a median age of 62. Darnell Hunt, coauthor of the “Hollywood Diversity Report” expressed a similar view in the Los Angeles Times:

“There’s a certain taste and culture [in the academy], and a particular type of storytelling that isn’t very inclusive of diverse points of view.”

While many moviegoers no longer regard stories centering around white men as universal in any way, older white men remain in charge of the movie industry. The LA Times notes that despite recent efforts to include more women and minorities in the Academy, the group has not actually changed much because members have lifelong terms. If Hollywood’s only effort to change comes through appointing more minorities, Hunt argues, “diversity will take years to accomplish.”

Furthermore, 98 percent of both Hollywood writers and producers are white. The infographic states: “Producers and writers make all the calls related to what content is developed and who is cast in leading roles. Is it surprising that every single category in this study is overwhelmingly white?”

In a Jan. 27 interview with Democracy Now, Selma director Ava DuVernay responded to a question about her lack a nomination for best director with her own question: “Why was Selma the only film that was even in the running with people of color for the award?” In addition to including a more diverse group of people in the Academy, the film industry needs to foster more opportunities to develop films that represent diverse people and perspectives.

Moving forward from the disappointing lack of diversity in this year’s Oscar nominations, moviegoers should also recognize their responsibility to demand that diverse voices and stories are portrayed in film. As consumers, we vote by spending money and attention on the media we find meaningful and interesting. Outrage at a system that does not value diversity must be coupled with a commitment to support creators of diverse media by watching their movies and TV shows and reading their books.

Anna Chotlos ’16 chotlos@stolaf.edu is from Madison, Wis. She majors in English.

Graphic Credit: ETHAN BOOTE/MANITOU MESSENGER

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Premiere of operetta, “Fabrizios Comet,” dazzles

The St. Olaf Lyric Theatre Department premiered Fabrizio’s Comet – an operetta composed by St. Olaf Professor of Music James McKeel – from Oct. 16 through 18. The operetta transported the audience into a night of magical telescopes and enchanted violins, forbidden love, secrets and sainthood.

Based on the novel Fabrizio’s Return by Canadian author Mark Frutkin, McKeel’s operetta Fabrizio’s Comet was the culmination of two years of work adapting the novel to the stage by writing the libretto and composing the music. Frutkin traveled to St. Olaf to attend the final rehearsals and performance.

An operetta differs from an opera in that it tends to be shorter and lighter, both in terms of music and subject matter. The program offered the following synopsis:

“When a skeptical 18th-century devil’s advocate is sent from Rome to judge the sainthood candidacy of a much revered 17th-century priest and healer from the town of Cremona, Italy, he soon finds himself caught up in the miraculous tales and secret life of the man called Don Fabrizio Cambiati.

Through the magic of Halley’s Comet, time travel, lusty elixirs, forbidden love and a town bent on having its own saint, the devil’s advocate soon finds himself on the same perilous path as the priest he was sent to judge.”

Performed in Urness Recital Hall, a colorful set and period costumes gave the operetta a warm, romantic atmosphere. The main portion of the stage depicted the piazza in Cremona, Italy, though a corner represented Don Fabrizio’s study. A projection of a comet traveling around the upper walls conveyed the wonder and magic at the heart of the story. In the second act, the use of candlelight on a darkened stage emphasized the moments of uncertainty and internal conflict, creating seriousness and intensity in an otherwise funny, light plot.

Fabrizio’s Comet also showcased the talent of St. Olaf’s many student singers and musicians. The cast included about twenty students. Eric Broker ’15 played the role of Don Fabrizio and Harrison Hintzche ’16 played the Devil’s Advocate, sent to investigate Fabrizio’s candidacy for sainthood. Other characters included several generations of Dukes and Duchesses of Cremona, the inhabitants of the city and a group of commedia dell’arte players led by the narrator, Mountebank, played by Wenie Lado ’16.

In the seventeenth century, when the Duchess of Crimona Chloe Elzey ’15 comes to him seeking a cure for infertility, Fabrizio falls in love, compromising his prospects for sainthood to help her. A century later, the Advocate sent to uncover Fabrizio’s secret finds himself in a similarly difficult position when he falls in love with Elettra Danielle Long ’16, the great-great-granddaughter of Fabrizio’s Duchess. Observing Halley’s Comet through his telescope, Fabrizio has the opportunity to observe the Advocate 76 years into the future. In the end, the magic of the comet thwarts the dire consequences facing the lovers and ensures a happy ending for all.

Despite the narrator Mountebank’s efforts to guide the audience through the many changes in time, it became difficult to follow the jumps between centuries and decipher the boundaries of the commedia dell’arte troupe’s play within the operetta. Despite some confusion, the music – memorable for its rich range of witty, wistful and fearful emotions – carried the production. “When Priests Become Lovers,” a quartet sung by both couples, stood out as a particularly beautiful song. The audience members found themselves humming along during the final reprise of “The Miracles of Cambiati” as the cast exited the stage after their final bow: “Cambiati, Cambiati, Fabrizio Cambiati! We love to sing of his miracles!”

The performance was recorded and is archived on the St. Olaf web site.

chotlos@stolaf.edu

Photo courtesy of Kelly Leung.

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Musicians benefit from physical therapy

On Thursday, Sept. 19, at 11:30 a.m. a crowd of music students and faculty gath- ered in Urness Recital Hall for a presenta- tion about core strength and injury preven- tion. Physical therapist Dave Wieber and occupational therapist Ann Dahl filled the hour with helpful wellness advice.

The speakers, from Wieber Physical Therapy in Faribault, are used to working with students. In addition to their regular practice, Wieber and Dahl also work with St. Olaf performing arts students in the Skoglund training room, providing treat- ment for overuse injuries and other issues related to the physical demands of practice and performance.

The hour-long lecture focused on the importance of developing proper posture and core strength in order to avoid injuries. Wieber first demonstrated what good pos- ture looks like, standing sideways to show how the head, shoulders, neck and back all ought to align. Throughout the presenta- tion, he emphasized the interconnected- ness of body’s muscles, bones and tissues. Lecture attendees were asked to place a hand on a partner’s spine and feel how the back muscles tightened while the partner moved

hisorherarmasifholdingabowtoplaya stringed instrument.

The core, Wieber explained, involves leg, shoulder and neck muscles, not just the stomach and back. A strong core matters to musicians because using the body’s large muscles to support a balanced, stable frame reduces fatigue and improves fine motor control. While most instrumental musi- cians focus on training their hands and arms, ignoring the rest of the body has a detrimental affect on both performances and musician health. Dahl noted that many of the hand and wrist injuries she sees stem from other problems in the person’s shoul- ders and back.

The second half of the presentation con- sisted of Wieber and Dahl demonstrating several exercises to strengthen the muscles that help musicians improve their posture and relieve tension. Most required no spe- cial equipment and could be done in a practice or dorm room, the library or even a car. The entire audience stood and practiced each stretch. Wieber recommended that musicians do a few reps throughout the day, instead of trying to work through everything at once. The lecture finished with a brief question and answer session.

While the presentation was directed

toward music students, many of Wieber and Dahl’s suggestions apply to students and faculty in every discipline. Anybody carry- ing an overstuffed backpack and spending hours leaning forward while studying can acquire a permanent slump and back pain. Dahl also pointed out that the contorted positions many adopt while working on laptops also create pain and lasting damage. She recommended that laptop users either sitatatableorfindawaytopropupthekey- board high enough to use without hunching over.

Additionally, Wieber suggested dividing long blocks of study or practice time into shorter intervals with breaks that include movement and stretching. Because it is only possible to both focus on a task and main- tain healthy posture for about 20 minutes at a time, taking stretch breaks allows the brain to process and retain information more effectively and avoids stressing the body.

On-campus physical therapy is one of many resources available to St. Olaf musi- cians and other performers. Contact Kathryn Ananda-Owens for more informa- tion about physical therapy and other musi- cian wellness-related concerns.

chotlos@stolaf.edu

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bloom initiative inspires creative growth

Where is creativity in our everday lives? This question inspired bloom, a student-led initiative to cultivate creativity and interdisciplinary collaboration. One voice in a broader St. Olaf conversation about teaching creativity, bloom aims to increase awareness of the innovation already present on campus, while promoting the practice of creativity in every aspect of life at St. Olaf.

Last fall, bloom held “Build,” an event inviting students to stop and play with cardboard boxes in front of Buntrock. The group also put up community feedback displays in order to gather information about how the St. Olaf community views originality. Moving forward this year, bloom will collaborate with other organizations on campus, including honor houses, music groups and the Piper Center to, in the words of founder Kirsten Schowalter ’15, “unveil creativity in the fibers of St. Olaf.”

In addition to increasing awareness of the abundant innovation already present on campus, bloom plans bring in speakers to discuss topics like design thinking, a methodology for creative and interdisciplinary problem solving.

The group hopes to challenge the perception that imagination is limited to certain disciplines like the fine arts, music, dance and writing. According to bloom member Jay Carlson ’15, bloom works “to expand the notion of creativity; creative problem solving and design thinking aren’t just buzzwords, they are processes that occur in every academic discipline and real-world situation.”

Creativity doesn’t always mean wielding a paintbrush or musical instrument, nor is it a magical power or a talent someone receives at birth. It is a skill that can be cultivated and harnessed, and everyone is creative.

Schowalter describes creativity in three parts: Little C, Middle C, and Big C. “Little C” creativity is expressed through basic decisions like “how we organize our days or how we decide what to write a paper on.”

Next, “Middle C” inventiveness involves considering the possibilities of an interdisciplinary approach while problem-solving in a workplace or academic setting. “Middle C” creativity might consist of considering a challenge from multiple perspectives. For example, how would an economist look at a certain situation, as opposed to a historian or a biologist?

Finally, “Big C” ingenuity refers to huge breakthroughs with a large-scale impact on many people’s lives. All three kinds of creativity are found at St. Olaf.

Schowalter and Carlson both describe how bloom has led them to incorporate originality into their daily lives more intentionally.

“Before, I recognized creativity as an important skill, but now I am constantly aware of all the opportunities to exercise my creativity in every part of my life. Creativity has always been part of me, but now I intentionally choose the paths throughout my day that foster as many fresh ideas as I can. I see creativity everywhere now,” Schowalter said.

Carlson also emphasizes the importance of reaching out to students who remain unconvinced of their own potential as innovative people with the capability to approach a challenge from multiple perspectives.

“The purpose of bloom is to show the Olaf population that each of us creates, and that we can and should take things we learn in one sphere of life and apply it to another,” Carlson said.

Although a core group of students and faculty meet regularly to plan events, bloom’s webpage declares that “everyone is part of [bloom] by being creative human beings!”

“We are not about membership, we are not about monthly meetings,” Schowalter said. “We practice creativity. So, jump in when we are playing with Legos in the quad, or decide to be part of the design thinking cycle, or attend events of speakers to learn more about creativity beyond the Hill. Show up and be open to the practice. We are not adding to your already busy lives. [We are] about seeing what we already are: creative, smart, interdisciplinary people, and incorporating that into everything we do.”

Check out the bloom Web site for more information at pages.stolaf.edu/creativelearningcommunities/category/bloom and follow the bloom Facebook page, “A New Way of Doing: bloom,” to stay updated on events and creative happenings.

chotlos@stolaf.edu

Photo Credit: LIZ BRINDLEY/MANITOU MESSENGER

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